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to be sufficient proof that it does not come from



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294 CONVERSATIONS IN A STUDIO.

spirits. I agree with you in thinking that their
utterances are not from the so-called spii'itual
world ; but I do not see why we should expect
spirits out of the body to have more intelligence
than spirits in the body. We have no reason to
think so. We know absolutely nothing in re-
spect to the changes which take place after death.
It may be that pure and refined spirits, freed from
the body, ascend to higher existence ; but in that
case it is difficult to imagine that such spirits would
return to rap out foolish statements at tables.
But, on the other hand, there are many low, mean,
contemptible spirits dwelling here in the flesh to
whom the body may lend apparent respectability,
and, stripped of this garment which conceals their
inanity of intellect and baseness of desires, they
may fall in the scale of being even below what they
seemed here. Such spirits — of the earth earthy —
would long for the gratifications of the sense and
the flesh, and might be supposed to haunt the earth
to which their desires cling, and grasp at any means
of communication with it. Their heaven would
be the heaven of the senses and of the life they
had lost, and one would naturally expect from
them lies, hypocrisies, and deceit of every kind.
Freed from the body, the naked spirit would be
what it desired : the high and pure of aspiration
would therefore ascend to loftier planes of exist-
ence, the mean and base might descend even to
lower. I only suggest this answer to any argument
against spiritual communications founded upon



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THE FUTURE OF SPIRITS, 296

their triviality, feebleness, and absurdity. Let us
clear our minds of distinctions between human be-
ings and spirits. We are all spirits ; all our com-
munications are spiritual. It is two spirits who
talk together — not two bodies — here on earth.
We have no warrant for the belief that the instant
the spirit is freed from the body it necessarily
leaves the earth — whatever be its condition —
and becomes at once purified and beyond its influ-
ences. It may be or it may not be ; but it is cer-
tainly a possible supposition that they whose whole
happiness, while here, has been in the joys of the
body, and whose desires have been mean and de-
praved, may only continue to be possessed by the
same desires, and long to regain the body through
which they obtained their gratification.

M. It never struck me before in this light, but
it certainly is an intelligible theory, whether it be
correct or not. We all have faith in gradations
of future being, and we believe that the spirit sur-
vives the body and retains its identity ; and why
not suppose, if its preparation in this life has been
for higher spheres, it would naturally ascend to
them, while if it had been for lower spheres, it
would equally descend to them ? If, after death,
we retain an individuality, we naturally must re-
main what we inherently are, with the same de-
sires, the same aspirations, the same tendencies.
This would, if we accept it, enable the human be-
ing here to shape for himself his future sphere, by
the training of his thoughts and aspirations to



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296 CONVERSATIONS IN A STUDIO.

what is lofty, pure, and refined on the one hand,
or, on the other, to what is low, bestial, and de-
graded. We should thus reap what we ourselves
have sown, and not be subject to any judgment
and sentence outside of ourselves. Would not tliis
recommend itself to our sense of perfect justice ?

B. If we choose to take another step, we might
suppose that repeated trials might be allotted to
every spirit to climb up to higher spheres of exist-
ence by the purgation of its desires (since every
spirit IS what it desires), by its devotion to noble
ends, by its constant experience that the low leads
only to the low, by its sense of loss in consequence
of its base aims.

M. In respect to these so-called spiritual com-
munications by means of table-rappings, and all
that, we shall never have the phenomena properly
investigated so long as we begin with a theory.
To set out with the assumption that all the mate-
rial phenomena are occasioned by spiritual inter-
vention is entirely unworthy of science and philos-
ophy. But so strenuously is this theory advanced
by believers that the minds of those who pretend
to investigate them are warped at the beginning :
on the one side are those who are inclined to the
spiritual theory, and on the other those to whom
such a theory is absurd and even worse ; and both,
for entirely opposite reasons, are averse to strict
examination and investigation. The real question
is. Do the facts exist or not ? If so, how are they
to be explained ? If the facts clearly exist, it is



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THE TEST OF SCIENCE. 297

idle to reject them because a fooKsh theory is ad-
vanced to explain them. Are there any facts out-
side our common experience of the laws of nature
so called ? If there be, let us arrange them with
calmness and honesty. On both sid^s, on the con-
trary, 1 find precipitation and impatience. Those
disposed to the spiritual theory accept everything
at once as spiritual. Those who are skeptical and
unbelieving reject every fact as a cheat, without
carefully investigating it or explaining it. It suf-
fices the latter class on one or two occasions to de-
tect a charlatan at work, or to encounter an entire
failure of the experiment, to come to the conclu-
sion that the whole thing is the result of charlatan-
ism. But repeated failures or repeated cheating
prove nothing. No scientific man would investi-
gate any other question in the same spirit as he
does this. If the matter were worthy of consider-
ation at all, he would not be stopped in his re-
searches by repeated failures to obtain his end.
He would try again and again. He would not in-
sist in the outset, for instance, that galvanism did
not exist unless he could produce its effects in the
way he chose. He would not insist on his own
conditions, and assert that unless the results were
obtained through them they did not exist at all.
But this is what he constantly does in his professed
investigation of so-called spiritual phenomena, be-
cause it is the term spiritual which annoys and
disgusts him. If you recount to him any phenom-
ena, perfectly material and physical, as having oc-



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298 CONVERSATIONS IN A STUDIO.

curred in your presence under conditions contrary
to his preconceived opinions or experience, he says,
It would not have occurred had I been there ; or
he smiles, and says. Ah, indeed I and thinks you
are a fool. If you press the point, and ask him to
explain it, and tell him the details, and show him
that his explanation does not accord with the facts,
he assumes at once that you were incapable of in-
vestigation, that you were humbugged, or that you
lie. Humbug is the great word he uses — a very
expansive one, which means anything or nothing.
If you reply, How humbugged ? where is the hum-
bug ? point it out — I clesire to know as much as
you ; he declines to particularize, and prefers the
generalization of — Humbug.

B. I cannot wonder at his condition of mind,
nor fail to sympathize with his disgust at so much
absiuxlity as is put forth by spiritualists in gen-
eral.

M, Nor I ; but, at the same time, he shoidd, I
think, preserve a more scientific and philosophic
attitude, and not decide until he has thoroughly
investigated. There may be nothing in all this ;
he may be quite right, only he has not examined
the question sufficiently to decide upon it. For
all he has seen and can explain there may be some-
thing. Of all these phenomena, some may be real
and point to a law not yet understood. Are there
any such ? It is not, to my mind, sufficient to try
a few casual experiments on absolute conditions,
and to reject the whole if failure ensues. In sci



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THE UNBELIEF OF BLINDNESS. 299

ence one does not expect the first tentative exper-
iment to succeed. Suppose the experiment fails a
hundred times and succeeds once, the important
fact is the one success, not the hundred failures.
The truth is that all begin with skepticism — not
honest skepticism which neither believes nor disbe-
lieves, which is ready to accept or reject according
to the evidence and facts, but skepticism with a
loaded bias to unbelief. There is no reason either
for or against the existence of any phenomenon a
priori. The mere fact that it is contrary to our
experience is no proof that it does not exist. Sup-
pose a community of blind persons to exist on an
island which had never been visited by any person
who saw, and suppose, by accident, a man with the
power of sight should be thrown among them.
How could he prove to them that this faculty
really existed in him ? He would at once be met
by the statement that it was contrary to their ex-
perience, that no one they had ever heard of pos-
sessed such a faculty. Vainly would he reason
with them. His exhibition of this faculty would
be treated as humbug and charlatanism. He would
say, for instance. Place a person fifty yards from
me, and beside him any selected person in whom
you have confidence. I will tell you without mov-
ing from here every action he makes. He would
do this. What would be the answer ? Would the
blind be convinced ? Not at all ; they would say.
You have a confederate ; this knowledge is pro-
cured by a secret system of sounds and signs in-



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300 CONVERSATIONS IN A STUDIO,

telligible to the senses we all have, or by some
method which we do not know ; what w^ do know
is that nobody can see. Or they would say, Let
us lock you up in a room all by yourself, with no
doors or windows, and chain you there, and then
you must tell us what is done in another house by
a person we will lock up there, or what is done in
the street outside. If you answer, Under those
conditions I cannot see, they would cry out, This
proves it is all juggling. If you can't see as weU
in a box locked up at night as in the open air by
day, you cannot see at all. There is no such power
that exists ; and though we do not detect the trick,
it is nevertheless a trick. Don't you see that the
seeing man in this case would be in a hopeless po-
sition ? Suppose that there be anything real — I
do not say there is — but suppose there be any-
thing real in the phenomena of tables rising in
the air, the person through whose mediumship
they are executed is, to the scientific man of to-
day, in a position quite analogous to that of the
seeing man among the blind or the hearing among
the deaf, provided they have no previous expe-
rience of such a faculty as sight or hearing.

B. You speak as if you believed in these phe-
nomena. Do you ?

M. I was not speaking of my belief, nor did I
intend to indicate whether I believe in any of them
or not. I merely meant to say that the spirit in
which they are investigated is not what I wish it
were.



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THE MYSTERY OF SIMPLE LIFE. 801

B, But do you beKeve ?

M. I Believe what I have seen and what I have
tested with all my senses. I mean the physical phe-
nomena, for I have every proof of their reality that
I have of anything, and I am not yet persuaded
that I am an utter fool. But I do not undertake
to explain them, much less do I accept the spiritual
explanation. In my opinion there is quite as much
stupidity in our incredulity as in our credulity. I
cannot explain anything. It is an entire mystery
how I see, how I hear, how I move my arm. Anat-
omists and scientific men explain to me the me-
chanism, and I understand that ; but I do not under-
stand how I set the mechanism in movement, nor
they either. A man lives, sees, moves, one moment ;
the next moment he is what we call dead. The
mechanism is the same, but the somewhat we can-
not trace that moved it is gone. A prioriy outside
our experience one thing is as difficult to believe
as another, and it is idle to attempt to set bounds
to any operation of life by our experience. It is
quite possible that we have subtle powers and fac-
ulties which have escaped our observation, and
that are exercised at times unconsciously or only
in certain abnormal conditions. Change for a
moment the normal conditions of ordinary life, and
instantly we have new phenomena^ as in the case
of madness, monomania, or delirium. In high
fever the organs are far more susceptible than in
health. What are you going to do with second-
sight and ghosts, apparitions and premonitions?



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802 CdNVERRATIONS IN A STUDIO,

Will you reject them all? Is there nothing in
them ? or will you say with Dr. Johnson, *' All argu-
ment is against it, but all belief is for it"? Are
there no such things as sympathies and antipathies
which we cannot explain, and yet which to us are
real ? What is love ? What is hate ? No ! we
do not know anything yet ; and there are, in my
opinion, penumbral powers and senses surround-
ing our plain and definite ones, which we do not
understand, and which we have not investigated.
All I mean by this is, that it seems to me very
foolish to cry out humbug at. anything which is
contrary to our common experience; and that it
would be more scientific and honest to investigate
calmly than to ridicule without investigation. And
this is all I have to say, and don't let us talk
any more about it. I am ready to believe anything
if you can prove it properly. I am ready to dis-
believe it if yon can show that it has absolutely
no foundation ; but I do not begin by believing or
disbelieving before careful examination. If I have
not examined into it, I merely say I know nothing,
or, as Montaigne did, " Que sais-je ? "

B. I dare say you are perfectly right ; but my
own persuasion is that ninety-nine one-hundredths
of all this spiritualism is utter charlatanry, and I
think I am very generous in giving you up the one
one-hundredth. Do you remember that medium
who, after gathering a considerable number of
persons together at one of his seances^ and find-
ing that several had obtained entrance without



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HUMORS OF SPIRIT-RAPPING, 803

paying for their tickets, rose — on a subsequent
seance — before commencing his operations, and
said, "I wish to make one observation — there's
nothing riles the spirits so as coming in without
paying"?

M. I remember ; and he was a very clever fel-
low, and knew what he was about. I have no
doubt that the more money was paid the more his
spirits were raised. But I admit that there are
many charlatans of this kidney, and numbers of
people whom they take in, and to whom the rub-
bish that is slowly rapped up at the table seems
like inspired communications from the other world.
My disgust at these fellows is quite equal to yours.
1 cannot use language too strong to express my
abhorrence of those who, by lying arts, pretend to
summon from the other world those who were dear
as life to us, but who have passed away, and then
put into their mouths those miserable lies. Think,
for instance, of Charles Sumner's spirit being
rapped up the other day, and giving this remark-
able advice to his listeners, — " You must n't act
selfish " !

B, Sometimes the messages rapped up are very
amusing. Did you ever hear what the spirit of
Dr. Webster, the murderer of Dr. Parkman, once
rapped up to an astonished audience ?

M. Never ; but pray let me hear it.

B. WeU, Webster, as you know, killed Dr.
Parkman to avoid paying a debt due to him ; and
when the spirit of Dr. Webster presented itself at



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304 CONVERSATIONS IN A STUDIO.

the table and was asked, as usual, what he was do-
ing in the spirit-world, his answer was that he was
keeping a boarding-house, and that Dr. Park-
man was living with him, without paying, until he
should work off or eat up the debt.

M. That shows more ingenuity and intellect
than one generally gets from the rapping spirits.
If they would always be as amusing, I should like
to attend some seances.

B. Yes, if they only would be a little amusing, it
would be a relief ; after all, they might make such
fun of us here : what a chance for them ! but they
are so deadly serious and so sadly commonplace,
that they are not good company. Heavens ! only
think of such a lot surrounding you in another
world and you without a body to hide away in, or
a key to your door, and all of them swarming in
upon you with their futile remarks and sad com-
monplaces !

M, It would be worse than the mosquitoes in
the Western States of America. Why do we al-
ways think of spirits as being so serious ? Are
we to lose all our sense of humor when we lose
our bodies ? Are we never to amuse ourselves ?
Is there nothing in the other world to correspond
to the enjoyments of this ? Are all our art and
poetry to be utterly swept away ? Are there to be
no varieties of character and personality ? Shall
we never laugh ? Worse than this. According
to the old superstition, we artists shall be in a
pretty mess ; for all the graven images we have



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THE COMFORT OF A BODY. 305

made, and all the likenesses of things in the
heavens, or the earth, or the waters under the earth,
will, it has been said, become endowed with life,
and pursue us, and haunt us, and torment us — a
pleasant thought indeed ! But what should I do
there without art and poetry, and literature and
music, and all these occupations and delights ?
Will there be no work for us to do, no books to
read, no pictures to paint ?

B. Music is, according to the general" belief,
admitted. We shall be able to sing. It will al-
ways be the same song ; but we shall be able to
sing it eternally ; and we are told that we shall
never tire of singing it. But as for painting pic-
tures and modeling statues, I have never heard
we should be allowed to do that.

Jf. I earnestly hope I shall have a body. I
don't at all conceive how I could do without one.
But every one tells me — and of course every one
knows — that I shall not need a body, and that I
shall be perfectly contented with doing nothing but
sing. But how shall I sing if I have no body ?
What sort of preparation, then, are any of us
making for such a world ? If we are to be deprived
of all means of exercising such f a<;ulties as we have
spent our lives in training and cultivating here,
what is the use of training and cultivating them at
all ? Why are these passionate desires given us
here for what seems to us pure and noble, if, the
moment we pass away from earth, they become
perfectly useless ? If to-morrow you were to de-



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306 CONVERSATIONS IN A STUDIO.

prive me of all these occupations, I should be very
unhappy ; and how can I be happy there depriv^ji
of them — that is, so long as I maintain my own
identity and consciousness ?

B. At all events, I hope I shall have some kind
of a body to inhabit and use. It seems to me
dreadful to think of wandering about, a mere
naked spirit, with no house to cover one. In fact,
without a body I should be nobody. The idea of
being blown about by the wind, or of being open
to invasion by every other spirit, without any
power of secrecy of thought and feeling, is abhor-
rent to my notions. I do not care to keep this
body if I can find a better ; but this is better than
none, and I have lived in it so long, and had so
much happiness in it, that I have a sort of fond-
ness for it. If I take a new one, I should like it
fresher, better, and handsomer in every way, more
quickly responsive to the spirit, and not so easily
tired. I should like too to be able to go to sleep
in it, and so make excursions from it into other
regions, for of course I hope there will be upper
regions still. And of all things I should hope to
be able to be alone sometimes, if I chose. I like
the odor of flowers. Do spirits smell? Are we
to be out of our senses, so to speak ? I hope not.

M. Did you ever read " The Gates Ajar," by
Miss Elizabeth Stuart Phelps? She takes up
this question and develops it in a most peculiar
way and with much talent

B. Yes, I have read it ; and I hear it is very



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THE GATES AJAR. 307

popular, as of course it would be. The vague no-
tions of a future state of existence which are gen-
erally entertained are quite unsatisfactory ; and I
can easily understand that such a view as hers
would recommend itself to many. To me her de-
velopment of it is quite too material.

J/1 At all events, it does, after a peculiar fash-
ion to be sure, recognize that the tastes, feelings,
thoughts, and aspiration we cultivate here will not
be utterly obliterated hereafter, and will find some-
thing hereafter to correspond to them. But come !
our conversation has wandered widely enough, and
it is time to break off. '^ Light thickens, and the
crow makes wing to the rocky wood." Let us go
and see it on the Pincio.



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Online LibraryWilliam Wetmore StoryConversations in a studio → online text (page 19 of 19)